As Anglicans, we are part of a global communion of churches established over the centuries by the Church of England. The word Anglican actually means “of England.” As British Anglicans, compelled by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, took their faith around the world, churches were established on every continent and in many nations. British pastoral leaders encouraged autonomy and collegiality among these daughter churches, and over time, 39 separate “provinces” of the Anglican Church were established around the world. Today these provinces function in a voluntary communion based around common beliefs and practices. The leaders of each province, called archbishops, gather periodically to discuss the work of the church and to resolve issues that may arise.
The Anglican Church is a biblically based church with ancient roots and a treasure of rich resources that help us grow as followers of Jesus Christ to love God and serve our communities as Christians.
Anglicans have always sought to worship God faithfully with living forms of worship. Therefore, our services and liturgies mirror the worship of the ancient apostolic church while incorporating the common language and culture of the communities in which they are practiced. Furthermore, Anglicans incorporate both ancient sacramental practices and visual symbols to celebrate the certainty of our faith and the mysteries of God. Together, sacrament, symbol, and word, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, connect our senses with our minds and hearts.
In order to remain true to the teachings of Christ and the apostles, Anglicans have historically upheld the Holy Scriptures as God’s Word, have held to the summary of evangelical beliefs known as the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, and have accepted the three great Christian creeds, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, as the fundamental statements of the Christian faith. We celebrate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as commanded by Jesus and we uphold the historic order of bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the administration of the church’s life and mission.
Today the worldwide Anglican Communion is experiencing both tremendous stress and tremendous renewal. The stress comes as some provinces depart from historic Anglican faith and practices and from the orthodox understanding of the Holy Scriptures. On the other hand, the renewal comes from the explosive growth of the gospel through Anglican churches and missions in many locations, particularly the “two-thirds world.” For example, there are more than 15 million Anglicans in Nigeria— over 5 times more than all the Anglicans in the United States.
Eight Key Characteristics
In an online article titled ‘Speculating in Anglican Futures’ renowned Anglican theologian J. I. Packer wrote that Anglicanism has eight key characteristics:
“Anglicanism is first biblical and protestant in its stance, and second, evangelical and reformed in its doctrine. That’s a particular nuance within the Protestant constituency to which the Anglican church is committed – the 39 Articles show that. Ten, thirdly, Anglicanism is liturgical and traditional in its worship.
I go on to say, fourthly, Anglicanism is a form of Christianity that is pastoral and evangelistic in its style. I quote the ordinal for that and I point out that ever since the ordinal and the prayer book required the clergy to catechize the children, Anglicanism has been evangelistic, though the form of the evangelism has not been that of the travelling big tent – the form of the evangelism has been rather institutional and settled; the evangelism was part of the regular work of the parish clergyman and the community around him. But let nobody say that institutional parochial Anglicanism is not evangelistic and, today, I know the wisest folk here in England are recovering parochial evangelism in a significant way. Thank God they are.
And then I say, fifthly, that Anglicanism is a form of Christianity that is episcopal and parochial in its organization and, sixthly, it is rational and reflective in its temper. I make a point of that. I say that, in Anglican circles, any question can be asked and the Anglican ethic is to take the question seriously and discuss it responsibly. There are, of course, Protestant churches which, I think you have to say, are always running scared and as soon as a question of this kind – a real puzzle of our Christian truth, of the ways of God – is raised in their circles, they bring out the big stick. “Now you mustn’t talk like that, you shouldn’t be concerning yourself about that. Just stay with the ABC of the Gospel and Bible truth”. Theological reflection is discouraged rather than helped on its way. That makes, I believe, for real immaturity. So I celebrate the fact that Anglicanism, characteristically is rational and reflective and believes in the discipline of debate and sustained discussion, believing, you see, that like panning for gold, the gold of truth will be distilled out through the discussion and the dross of error will be panned away.
Seventhly, I tell people that Anglicanism as a form of Christianity is ecumenical and humble in spirit. Unlike some denominations, we do not claim that Anglicanism is self-sufficient. What we say, rather, is that the Anglican way is the way of a person with an unlimited charge card going through a large department store and being free to say of every valuable thing you see and would like to make your own: “That’s for me. Put it on charge”. Anglicans have always rejoiced to receive wisdom from outside their own circles. They have a vision of Christendom as a fragmented reality with flashes of truth and wisdom scattered all across the board. Our business as Anglicans, seeking the glory of God, is to pick up as much truth and wisdom (get as much help, I mean, from these scattered shards of truth and wisdom) as we possibly can. I am comfortable with that. I would be uncomfortable with anything else.
Then, eighthly, I tell people that Anglicanism characteristically is national and transformist in its outlook. By `national’ I mean that the Anglican way is to accept concern for the spiritual condition of the national group within which the gospel is being preached. By `transformist’ I mean that Anglicans seek, under Christ, to see the culture changed into a Christian mould as far as maybe. So Anglicans have always been concerned about education and educational institutions, and about a Christian voice being raised in Government and things of that kind. Please God, it will always be that way wherever Anglicans go.”
Want to find out more?
Try this book by John Howe and Samuel Pascoe, Our Anglican Heritage, Can an Ancient Church be a Church of the Future?